The Government information department has announced that the names of all public enterprises that begin as ‘Ceylon’ will be replaced with the word ‘Sri Lanka'.
Not something particularly startling, considering that the name of the country was officially changed thirty eight years ago. Indeed we may well ask why it took them so long.
Looking through old letters from overseas that my parents received in the 1970's the address ended with "Sri Lanka (Ceylon)" but this is no longer necessary. Sri Lanka is well known enough, perhaps too well known. The most ready associations with the name being terrorism, war and Prabakaran while Ceylon was associated with Tea, spices and tourism. The last observation was made by a gentleman from Denmark who has been living here since the 1970's. He also felt that Ceylon was a much nicer name, the shape of the letters that make up the name being round and curvy rather than the angular strokes that make up Sri Lanka.
Lee Kuan Yew observed that the change of Ceylon's name did little to improve the lot of its people and that Ceylon Tea continued to be sold as Ceylon Tea. The latest decision will not apply to the marketing of tea, which will remain Ceylon Tea. Then why bother with this?
I generally view the changing of names with suspicion for the motive behind this is little more than garnering some cheap publicity for the politician or official responsible for the act, while sowing confusion in the mind of the public. I have no problem with local names being given to public works or buildings but I think it is a prerequisite that the official concerned earns the right confer his chosen name (and thus bask in the reflected glory) by actually constructing whatever is being named.
Renaming existing roads or works is little more than a distraction, a trick to divert the attention of the public from more pressing matters. To add insult to injury, the new names are long and unwieldy and include honours and qualifications which are quite unnecessary. Why must it be "Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha" (Dickman's Rd to the uninitiated) and not simply Peiris Mawatha? Why Sir Chittapalam A Gardiner Mawatha (Parsons Rd) and not Gardiner Mawatha?
This disease is not confined to local politicians, Bombay and Calcutta are cities built by the British whatever the local politicians may say. It would have been far better to have spent some effort in clearing slums, improving drainage, sanitation or any number of the problems in Bombay rather than confining their efforts to removing the last traces of the British, sixty years after their departure.
After all, what's in a name?